Profile:Sr Mary Usifoh
Sr Mary Usifoh is from the resource-rich Delta State in southern Nigeria which is largely defined by the great Niger River. The river straddles Delta State’s eastern fringes, gifting farmers with abundant quantities of fertile agricultural lands, before giving way to the 70,000 square kilometre Niger Delta. Sr May was born in Warri, the largest city in Delta State. A city synomous with the oil industry. Sr Mary’s voice smiles when she talks of her childhood in Warri.
Sr Mary Usifoh pictured at the 2017 SMA-OLA Pilgrimage in Knock.
“I was born and bred in Warri. It is the place I became aware of myself. It is the place where I met my friends, it is my home…the beginning of my life. I am a people person. I enjoyed listening to ‘wisdom talk’, to great minds. I encountered many well-read individuals with a lot of life experience. These truly were fascinating people who taught me so much.”
Sr Mary is one of nine children.
“I have two brothers and five sisters. I have a twin sister – I am the older one – or as we say in my culture my sister is the ‘junior twin’!”
So home life was busy, especially outside school time. Was that the reason for ‘pastoral outreach’ on the streets of Warri? Sr. Mary’s hearty laugh echoes around the room.
“Not at all. We didn’t go out when everyone was home incase we would miss out! Something was always happening.”
Another part of growing-up in the city of Warri was the presence of Irish missionaries.
“The missionaries were Irish: the bishop, the priest in charge of the cathedral and some of the OLA Sisters in my parish. I didn’t wonder at it. It was normal, part of life.”
Sr Mary liked school. Sr Mary attended Our Lady’s High School in Warri. Geography and agriculture were her favourite subjects. Her love for nature developed at a young age when she would accompany her father to the home of her grandparents in Onicha-Ugbo in Aniocha North local government area of Delta State.
“They were farmers. I still can recall so vividly the smell of fresh food bounding around the village and the beautiful nature.”
Sr Mary’s vocation story began as a growing girl.
“Two different people at two separate times told me that it would be good for me to be a Sister. I remember the first time. I was eight years of age. It came from a man who had a shop on the street where we lived and he was a member of our Parish. I just took it as good advice. A few years later a second person said something similar.”
After completing secondary school, Sr Mary knew where her future lay but she was taking no chances.
“I was all ready set to go in as a postulant before I told my parents. I guess I would be quite determined – I didn’t want anybody stopping me. It was all that I desired at the time.”
Were her parents upset?
“Not really. They would have been open to what I wanted for myself. I remember my father saying ‘if this is what you want, then you can go!’ “
Map of Nigeria. Image courtesy of www.keywordsuggest.org.
Sr Mary entered the OLA Convent in 1999, made her first profession in 2002 and took her final vows in 2011. In the intervening years, she completed a degree in Guidance Counselling in Delta State University while also serving in a number of OLA communities across Nigeria: Zawan, Yaba (Lagos),Warri and Benin City. Her ministries ranged from working in a centre for orphaned children – many abandoned on the street due to a disability – and in OLA schools. Sr Mary was recently working in the OLA School in Benin City when she got another ‘call’ Sr Mary arrived in Ireland on 5th May.
“I felt very welcomed. The big difference was the climate!”
Sr Mary has a great interest in country and gospel music. She also likes listening to the local music of other cultures.
“We celebrate a lot in Nigeria. Music and song accompanies every occasion. Everyone sings or at least tries to! This is a big change which I have come to encounter.”
She also remarked on how the sunshine has a big role to play here.
“With a bit of sunshine everyone comes out. People are more relaxed. I like the nature and the greenness. People are very warm and courteous.”
She has also observed how Irish people take responsibility for themselves and their actions:
“You don’t hide under the umbrella of anybody, you stand out. Everybody has to take responsibility for their work, actions and life. This is a good thing!”
Sr Mary concluded by looking forward to her mission in Ireland. She sees her role here as working for the good of the church mission.
“The challenge now is to make the church a place for all, not just a place for older people. Everyone has a role to play in this. It will be all hands on deck in terms of getting the youth back involved. We need to make it a new church and bring new life to it through young people. I attended the Fortify Catholic Youth Ministry event in Dublin and witnessed with my own two eyes all the great work that is been done by many.”